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6/19/03 - IRANIAN DISSIDENTS SPEAK OUT - 2003-06-19

More than two-hundred-fifty prominent Iranian writers, professors, and intellectuals have added their voices to the demands of Iranian students who are staging daily demonstrations calling for freedom in Iran. In a statement published in a Tehran newspaper, the dissidents declared that Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, must "answer to the people" and abandon the idea that he is "God's unchallenged representative on Earth."

The statement is yet another encouraging sign for Iranians, who are merely asking that Iran "join the modern world," as U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said:

"The demonstrators say that Iran's policies with regard to weapons of mass destruction, with support for terrorism, opposition to the peace process, human rights, have kept Iran back from its ability to move forward in terms of modernization and have kept Iran back in terms of the ability to provide for its people in terms of jobs and providing for its people internally."

The Iranian government claims the unrest is a result of outside agitators. But as Mr. Boucher made clear, this is nonsense:

"We offer our support, our encouragement. We make clear what side we stand on. But these are Iranians protesting Iranian policy and they need to be seen that way, not blamed on something outside."

The use of violence by the Tehran regime against Iranians who are peacefully expressing their views is a deplorable violation of human rights. But as President George W. Bush made clear, the Iranian people are no longer afraid of the unelected clerics' threats and abuses: "This is the beginning of people expressing themselves toward a free Iran, which I think is positive."

As the reformers' letter to the Iranian government said, the Iranian people and their elected lawmakers “have the right to fully supervise their rulers, criticize them, and remove them from power if they are not satisfied.” The United States agrees. The people of Iran, like all people, have a right to determine their own destiny.